Below is an excerpt from the book The Lost Art of Relationship: A Journey to find the lost commandment. Paperback, eBook, and AUDIBLE available at www.LOSTARTBOOK.com
I had my first “job” when I was twelve years old. I remember going to church one Sunday, and my father introduced me to a man named John Kafka. He held out his hand to shake mine, and as a twelve-year-old, I simply took his hand, but he shook mine with a death grip. He said to me, “Danny, it is nice to meet you. May I tell you something that will help you with your future?” I said, “Yes, sir.” He replied, “Whenever you shake someone’s hand, show confidence. You squeeze that person’s hand, so they know you are confident. A good, firm handshake says a lot about who you are to others.” I will never forget that first lesson he gave me.
My father had always taught me to show respect for others, not to lie, and to work hard. I still think my dad talked to John Kafka beforehand twelve. John Kafka was the president of Pollock Johnny’s, a polish sausage restaurant chain based in Baltimore, and he owned a house in a more expensive neighborhood. He was a wealthy man who had worked hard to get to where he was, yet he still wore clothes from the thrift store. He gave me a job at his house making twenty-eight dollars every Saturday to weed the rock garden behind his house and on the hill behind the in-ground pool. It was a tough job, but it strengthened my hands and arm muscles, so I didn’t have to work so hard to give a firm handshake. My dad dropped me off before he went to work and picked me up nine hours later.
I would not realize it until later, but John Kafka taught me so much about the importance of relationship. I learned that every relationship needs to be mutual; most of the time, we need to work hard at maintaining healthy relationships; and some of the most beneficial relationships can happen through tragic circumstances.
I will never forget the night. It was a Thursday night, and I had just finished taking a shower. My dad knocked on the bathroom door and asked if he could come in. I asked him to tell me through the door since I wasn’t decent. He said to me that John Kafka had just died that day. He was playing racquetball and fell dead in the middle of a game. I took the news pretty hard. I sank to the floor leaning on the door of the bathroom and cried.
Not only was he the first person to give me a job, but he was the first person (other than my father, who I consider my hero) to teach me valuable lessons about hard work, discipline, and the importance of relationship. I did not know it then, but the lessons on relationship would deepen in the coming year.
John’s wife, Marge Kafka, asked me to continue coming and helping around the outside of the house. I weeded the rock garden and all around their flower beds. It was a lot of territory to cover. I was now thirteen, making fifty dollars every Saturday.
An unexpected thing happened while I worked there for Marge. She invited me in to have lunch, and we spent two to three hours every Saturday just talking and keeping each other company. She had become very lonely with her kids out of the house and her husband gone. I always worried that I wasn’t getting the work completed, but she reassured me that her money was being well spent.
What I discovered later was that she desired relationship and companionship, conversation, and a feeling of belonging. She found it in a thirteen-year-old teenager. During a time when a teenager’s life typically becomes more about them than others, I was learning the importance of time well-spent with someone who needed connection. I’m convinced she saw me as her adopted grandson. She even let me swim in her pool on the hot Saturdays after I got done working until my dad came to pick me up. I only worked for Marge another eighteen months until I was old enough to get a job in a bookstore closer to home.
I learned many valuable lessons, such as the significance of putting others first, that matters, the importance of a firm handshake, the value of hard work, and the necessity of seeing value in others. These formed the basis of almost thirty years and counting of learning about relationships that continues today and will until my life is over. I am forever grateful to the Kafkas for teaching me so much.
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